Being Shellfish IS All It’s Cracked Up to Be!

Feast & Frolic kicks off the 2017 PEI International Shellfish Festival

Bountiful. If only allowed one word to sum up the Feast & Frolic event on September 14th, 2017, this three syllable word would be the one. Other strong contenders would include: enticing, indulgent, grand, impressive, and spectacular. After all, how else could one describe an evening filled to the brim with shellfish to suit every fancy, an army of talented chefs  and producers serving up all sorts of tantalizing dishes, a lineup of entertainment, and a celebrity chef host?

Feast & Frolic is to the PEI International Shellfish Festival what the opening ceremonies are to the Olympics – a chance for the Island’s finest food folk to strut their stuff and prove to the world (or at least those attending the event) that PEI’s reputation for having the best shellfish globally is well-earned.

Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

While I’d never been to the event before this year, I’d only ever heard rave reviews. From what I knew, I understood the evening to be one part roving appetizer stations (i.e. frolicking!), and one part massive sit-down meal (i.e. feasting), and all parts entertaining throughout.

To say I was looking forward to getting a first-hand peek at the event would be an understatement. Upon entering the large tent where all of the weekend’s festivities would take place I spotted the evening’s host, Chef Chuck Hughes.  I’d had a chance to interview him via phone a few weeks earlier and he was hilarious, down-to-earth, and a really, really big fan of PEI. So I was excited at the prospect of dropping a copy of Salty in his hands.  After a few minutes of waiting patiently, the opportunity presented itself. And Chuck was just as funny and easy-going as he’d been in our phone interview.

Shannon Courtney (L) with a new Salty reader, Chef Chuck Hughes//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Next up, I went in search of the much-touted oyster bar that would allegedly be serving up over 20 PEI oyster brands, each with a distinct ‘merroir’ (look at me making up new words), dependent on the bay or estuary in which the oyster was grown.  It was hard to miss, a slew of oyster shucking stations set up in a circular display, each manned or womanned by a savvy shucker.  Each oyster brand was proudly displayed, along with a description of oyster’s the flavour and texture. In total, there were 22 different oyster brands to sample – more than enough to satisfy even the most indulgent of oyster lovers!

Matt Sullivan (L), executive director of PEI Aquaculture Alliance and Wyatt Jeffery of Five Star Shellfish tending the oyster bar at Feast and Frolic//Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Along the back area of the tent I found myself in a quandry. There were three stations serving up PEI potato chowder and being tended to by the chefs that had won recognition for their chowders in previous incarnations of the competition. So what’s the quandry right? Well, you see, I am set to be a judge of this year’s PEI Potato Chowder Competition, which will take place Saturday and Sunday. Dare I chance becoming biased by sampling these chefs’ chowders? True, they might be serving up something different for the competition, but I still hesitated. For about 3 seconds. Then I decided to throw caution to the wind and gobble up each of the three chowders on offer. All I can say is that I predict a VERY difficult task as judge this weekend!

Chef Mike Eyolfson (L) of ADL with his grandson, Mike Callaghan, serving up a PEI Potato Chowder at Feast & Frolic//Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Did I mention the steamed mussels?  Well, if oysters and chowder weren’t enough to stave your hunger before the big feast, a big bowlful of PEI mussels would surely do the trick!

While standing alongside the food stations, eyeing up the stuffed PEI potatoes being served as apps, I spot a familiar face – Chef Nathan Schoenfeldt, one of two chefs representing the Fall Flavours Festival’s title sponsor, Sobeys, at various events throughout the month. Nathan tells me he’d  received a phone call earlier in the week from chef Irwin MacKinnon to help out at the dinner. It’s at that moment that I realize that, in addition to being a month of epic proportions for PEI’s culinary scene, Fall Flavours and the Shellfish Festival are a testament to the tightly-knit community of chefs, producers, event organizers, and other sponsors that bring these events alive with a team spirit that’s unparalleled.  As it turns out Nathan is just one of an army of talented chefs looking after tonight’s +400 guests, as I soon come to realize

Chef Nathan Schoenfeldt (L) of Sobeys with Shannon Courtney (R) of Salty//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

I find my way into a curtained off area near the back of the tent. I imagine it’s like the backstage of a Broadway show on its opening night. A large congregation of servers dressed in black are milling around, waiting for the main event.  Out behind the tent chef Irwin is gathering a small army of chefs in a large circle for a rundown of the plan of the evening, the highlights of which he shares when invited to speak on the main stage to all in attendance.

Chefs gather before the main event at Feast and Frolic//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

The chefs, including the competitors of the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge, and servers will be parading in the stars of the evening – PEI lobster and PEI AAA Striploin to each of the 18 long tables that have been prepared for the feast. The striploin will be carved tableside and served alongside Lester (you know, the lobster), as well as twice baked PEI russet potatoes and a medley of garden vegetables.   Irwin tells the crowd he’s got a personal goal of serving everyone (that’s 18 tables of 24 guests) within 12 minutes.  I’m starting to get the impression that Irwin really likes to push the limits (in a good way).

The tables are set at Feast and Frolic//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

There’s an ode to the farmers and fishermen, a ‘sociable’ with Caesars, and then without further, the parading, carving and feasting begin!

Lobster at Feast and Frolic//Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

And to think, this is just the beginning – truly an epic, Island-style welcome to the 2017 PEI International Shellfish Festival.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication's inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon's either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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